(WINDSOR, ON) – There has been much said about reinstating an Auditor General in Windsor. Most of the so-called official response, contained in a report to council penned by CAO Helga Reidel, is clearly biased against hiring an AG, and uses language intended to dissuade councilors from choosing a made in Windsor solution.
Instead of hiring an Auditor General, Reidel et al opt to recommend continuing to use the outside services of Pricewaterhouse Coopers at a cost of $300,000. The services of a store-bought auditor, such as PwC, pale in comparison to a fully independent AG with legislated powers. Whereas audits, especially in-depth, value for money audits, can be very costly when paying by the hour, an AG office, budgeted and staffed, can carry out numerous VFM audits for one low price of just $288,000.
Is the irony lost that the authors of the report would choose the more costly service with the least return? An AG would find these inconsistencies and make recommendations on how to getter better value for spending tax dollars.
An argument that arose last evening had to do with an AG having access to documents and other city materials when conducting an audit. In a disingenuous attempt to mislead those in attendance, Drew Dilkens asked representatives of PwC is they have ever had difficulty obtaining the materials from City departments they needed to conduct an audit. Of course, they said, “No.”
In addition to being ever so cloudy on whether Windsor has an AG already, or not, Dilkens has obviously forgotten, or chooses not to remember, about former lead auditor Mike Dunbar.
During his attempt to look into the construction of the 400 Building, Dunbar was continually rebuked by staff who refused to provide him with 12 boxes of documents that he requested. Dunbar eventually took early retirement due to the frustration he felt from the continual interference.
But Dilkens conveniently didn’t discuss that series of incidents which wouldn’t happen under an Auditor General.
There are two basic functions an auditor general would fulfill. One would be to, ahead of projects, determine if feasibility studies were sound and reasonable, such as for the downtown aquatic centre. We have found, in hindsight, that the ill advised Adventure Bay is losing millions of dollars per year; again something an AG could have foreseen when looking at the criteria upon which council was basing their decision.
The second function is to look at projects after the fact to see if any cost overruns are within tolerance and to suggest better methods and best practices for future projects, in order to protect residents. There are a lot of hidden lessons in the Adventure Bay debacle that will never be considered.
The worst issue surround the AG debate is the contemptuous display put on by Paul Borrelli. The Ward 10 councilor campaigned on the platform of returning an AG to Windsor. His literature clearly stated that Borrelli promised to hire an auditor general, despite what his apparatchiks may say.
“I will advocate for greater transparency and accountability and will immediately begin the process to bring back the Office of an independent Auditor General to Windsor.”
Borrelli didn’t immediately start the process, and his performance last night failed to fulfill the promise of the campaign. Infamous for saying, “A campaign is a campaign. Reality is reality,” Borrelli clearly showed he said one thing to get elected and then did something quite different once he was firmly seated at the council table.
He didn’t even understand what was wrong with the report to council.
Is Coun. Paul Borrelli showing his hand? He wonders aloud why a citizen considers city report arguing against AG so bad.
— Craig Pearson (@WinStarPearson) October 29, 2015
Then, trying to divert the conversation, Borrelli asked one delegation to council, “Don’t you think we should focus on creating jobs?” As if accountability and job creation are mutually exclusive.
What eventually was motioned was to appeal to the Ontario government to send audit requests to the provincial auditor General. Voting in favour of this motion were Borrelli, Jo-Anne Gignac, Ed Sleiman, John Elliott, Hillary Payne, and Dilkens. Opposed were Bill Marra, Chris Holt, and Irek Kusmierczyk. For some reason, Ward 3 councilor Rino Bortolin couldn’t find the strength to raise his hand for either yea or nay, and abdicated responsibility by abstaining.
The issue with the provincial AG is concerning. Rather than having an internal independent AG devising an audit plan and carrying out the audits, a less than transparent alternative would emerge. Either council or Administration directed by council would chose the files to send to the province for auditing. This is no different than the current situation with a contracted audit service.
More importantly, however, is that still not a possibility unless the legislation is changed, and today was the last day for municipalities to make recommendations to the province. Considering that Ontario has a per capita debt load close to where Detroit was when it declared bankruptcy, and Wynne is selling off assets in order to raise more operating capital, it is highly unlikely that the Liberals will want to add to their expenses by giving free value for money audits to municipalities.
It just doesn’t make sense.
This issue is far from over. There will be a short time where both sides will draw back and regroup, but you haven’t heard the last of an Auditor General in Windsor.
Prophetically, the only Auditor General Windsor ever had, Todd Langlois, described the situation in the city and the reception he received when he left Windsor.
“I don’t think they ever wanted an auditor general’s office,” said Todd Langlois in a 2012 interview. “I don’t think there was any intention to ever allow me or this office to succeed. It was all for the optics. [There was] complete lack of support. The resistance throughout sure raises a red flag.”
And nothing much has changed in the intervening three years.
Ian Shalapata can be heard at 8:30 pm every Monday evening and noon every Wednesday co-hosting Talkin’ ‘Bout Windsor on CJAM 99.1 FM. Listen on demand to previous episodes or catch the discussion live and join in. Talkin’ ‘Bout Windsor is broadcast every Monday and Wednesday to the Windsor and Detroit listening area and streamed online at CJAM.